October 21, 2014

By David Zisser

As part of its plans to keep the city’s three sports teams, the City of Oakland has drafted a Specific Plan that aims to create almost 8 million square feet of retail and office space, more than 20,000 jobs and nearly 6,000 housing units at “Coliseum City” in East Oakland. Coliseum City presents an opportunity to create lasting benefits for low-income East Oakland residents that include affordable places for new workers to live, good jobs for local residents, and accessible and affordable transit. If development is to bring any of these community benefits, though, the City must plan for people, not just sports teams.

On Friday, October 17th, Public Advocates submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on behalf of several community partners working on diverse issues: East Bay Housing OrganizationsCommunities for a Better EnvironmentUNITE HERE Local 2850East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable EconomyCausa Justa :: Just Cause and Hope Collaborative.

Together, we emphasized the need to include affordable housing, anti-displacement strategies, and quality jobs in the Coliseum City plan. It is well established that these issues have important environmental implications, and under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the DEIR must analyze the environmental impacts of the plan and consider measures to mitigate these impacts.

In response to advocacy by Public Advocates and our partners, on October 1st, the Planning Commission recommended adding new policies to the Specific Plan encouraging affordable housing, anti-displacement protections, and local hiring and job training. But these policies are not specific or concrete enough. Moreover, the DEIR does not incorporate these policies into the analysis of environmental impacts or mitigation measures.

Lead with Equity

Public Advocates and our partners have demonstrated before that leading with equity results in the best outcomes for the environment. In that vein, our comment letter identifies several problems with the DEIR that relate to creating a Coliseum City that truly serves the surrounding low-income communities and communities of color.

For example, lower-income residents ride transit more and drive cars less than higher-income residents, resulting in fewer vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions, and less traffic and air pollution. Nevertheless, the DEIR does not consider the environmental benefits of including affordable housing or preventing displacement of nearby low-income residents. Moreover, the plan envisions housing that would accommodate households far smaller than the average East Oakland household (see graph below), likely significantly under-estimating the number of new residents and the resulting environmental impacts.

In addition, the plan is likely to create thousands of low-wage jobs in retail, service and entertainment but fails to commit to the creation and preservation of affordable workforce housing. If workers are unable to afford homes in the project area, they will have to commute long distances that result in traffic, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. However, the DEIR fails to consider jobs policies that would help remedy this severe lack of “jobs-housing fit.”

All of this begs the question: who are the intended beneficiaries of this project? Residents who already live in the area must be able to stay in their communities and to benefit from public investments and new amenities, and low-wage workers who will help make the plan successful must be able to afford to live near their jobs. That would be a win-win both for low-income people and for the environment.

The Work Ahead

CEQA requires that the City respond in writing to all comments and fix identified deficiencies before finalizing environmental review and before the City Council adopts the plan, possibly in December or January. As this process continues, Public Advocates and our community partners will continue to press hard to get the City to incorporate policies into the Plan and the DEIR that meet the needs of low-income East Oakland residents and future Coliseum City workers.

While our sports teams are important, Oakland’s people matter more.

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